Kate Miller was 6 when she fell in love with a horse named Keystone Wallis. The standardbred mare was racing at The Meadows, where her family raced horses. Keystone Wallis stood out because she was a very light shade of gray, while most harness racers are brown (bay or chestnut).
That little girl never forgot the almost-white horse. Twenty years later, all grown up, Kate Miller would save the mare's life.
She had followed the mare's harness racing career; her winnings totaled about $600,000. As a brood mare she produced 14 foals, who collectively sold for more than $300,000.
Last month, Ms. Miller saw a sale catalog that included the name of Keystone Wallis, a 23-year-old "barren mare." Because the old mare's racing and breeding days are over, "I knew no one would want her but the killers," Ms. Miller said in a telephone interview. "I just had to buy her."
Some people buy horses at auction and ship them to foreign slaughterhouses. There is a market in Europe for horsemeat for human consumption.
Ms. Miller grew up in Cranberry, now lives in Crafton and works in Pittsburgh as assistant director of admissions for Argosy University Online Programs. She doesn't own a horse because she can't afford one.
She scraped together some of her own money, collected cash donations from friends and drove to the Nov. 19 auction in Delaware, Ohio.
The horse of her childhood dreams was now completely white and very thin. She also was stressed, scared and skittish amid the noise and confusion at the auction.
"No one knew who she was," Ms. Miller said. "I outbid the killer by $50 and bought her for $150."
A friend hauled the mare for free from Ohio to a Washington County stable, where Ms. Miller paid $10 a day to board her. But she couldn't afford that for very long.
The story of Kate Miller (who, by the way, is no relation to the late harness racer and breeder Delvin Miller) and Keystone Wallis spread through the harness racing world, and made it to Ellen Harvey, executive director of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association.
A story about Ms. Miller's devotion was published in The Horseman and Fair World, a trade magazine, where it was read by Dr. Patricia Hogan, a New Jersey veterinarian and equine orthopedic surgeon.
"Dr. Hogan e-mailed Kate and said she would take care of Keystone Wallis for the rest of her life. I thought it was an awfully sweet story" especially at Christmastime, Ms. Harvey said, in an e-mail. "Plus the mare is now totally white and looks like she could be Santa Claus' horse!"
Dr. Hogan is a 1992 graduate of The School of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania. Although she has volunteered her veterinary services to groups that rescue horses, this is the first time she has actually "adopted" one and brought it to her Fair Winds Farm in Cream Ridge, N.J.
"I was just so impressed and touched that a young person" would step up to help a horse," Dr. Hogan said. "Keystone Wallis was a world champion. I thought she deserved better" than the likely fate that awaits old horses sent to auction.
The mare "is a doll," Dr. Hogan said. "She has a lot of personality. She is sweet, inquisitive and easy to handle. Right now she is at my clinic."
The mare had a foal within the past year, which is probably why she is so thin, Dr. Hogan said. She is steadily gaining weight and will soon be turned out to pasture with a herd of older mares. With good care, horses can live 30 years or longer.
"We will let her live out her days as a horse. She deserves it," Dr. Hogan said.
The mare is featured in the Christmas card that Dr. Hogan e-mailed to clients and horse-loving friends See the online version at www.hoganequine.com. Standing behind Dr. Hogan and her staff is a beautiful white mare wearing a bright red blanket. The mare's eyes gaze directly at the camera. She doesn't look scared or skittish. She looks like a horse who is relaxed and at peace in a really nice place.
Not every horse is as lucky as Keystone Wallis. Donations are needed by organizations that rescue unwanted horses, including Hog Heaven Rescue Farm -- www.hogheavenrescue.org -- in Cochranton, Crawford County. For more information, go to The American Horse Council's Web site, www.unwantedhorsecoalition.org.
Linda Wilson Fuoco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3064.